From The American Catholic Philosophic Quarterly, LXIX (#1, 1995), 1-14.   This was originally a lecture given at Graduate School, The Catholic University of America.                                                               -- James V. Schall, S. J.

 

                                                   THE ROLE OF CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY IN POLITICS

 

"Man's conquest of himself means simply the rule of the Conditioners over the conditioned human material, the world of post-humanity which, some knowingly and some unknowingly, nearly all men in all nations are at present labouring to produce."

-- C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 1947.1

 

"And finally, Mr. Clinton allowed individuals to bring RU-486, the French abortion-inducing pill that may also be useful in the treatment of certain cancers and other diseases, into the U.S....."

   -- Editorial, "The Abortion Tide Turns," The New York Times, January, 23, 1993.

 

I.

James Boswell tells us that, as he was not in London in the year 1770, he did not have much conversation with Samuel Johnson.  However, instead of his own memory and notes, he was able for this same year, 1770, to include in his renowned biography some of the Recollections of Johnson by the Rev. Dr. Maxwell, of Falkland, in Ireland.  These recollections of the Rev. Dr. Maxwell are the source from which the following famous and amusing observation comes:  "A gentleman who had been very unhappy in marriage married immediately after his wife died:  Johnson said, 'it was the triumph of hope over experience.'"2

 

                  More to the point of a link between Christian philosophy and politics, however, though this very Christian philosophy too has something to do with the complex relation of hope and experience, we might recall two other passages from the same Recollections.  The first passage reads as follows:            

Speaking of Boethius, who was the favourite writer of the middle ages, he (Johnson) said it was very surprizing, that upon such a subject, and in such a situation (referring to his impending condemnation to death by the Emperor), he (Boethius) should be magis philosophus quam Christianus. 

Many thinkers before us, no doubt, have also been surprised by Boethius' unexpected source of "consolation," whereby on such an ominous occasion as his own condemnation to death, he preferred to meditate on Socrates rather than Christ.  

 

My own approach here, however, though happily lacking the same urgency, will be rather different from that of Boethius.  Reversing Johnson's remark about philosophy and Christianity, I will maintain the contrary position, to wit, eo magis Christianus, quo magis philosophus.  When the chips are down, of course, I do think it better to be a Christian than a philosopher, though I doubt that such chips are ever really down.  But I would suggest that precisely by being a Christian, by carefully reflecting on the exact Christian doctrines to see how it is possible to grasp what they might mean, one is a better philosopher, as philosopher. 

 

No doubt this position recalls St. Thomas.  It is also a view that rather often results in some considerable academic unpopularity if not downright animosity.  It often ends in a kind of cultural ostracism or academic death, in a situation that itself no doubt could wish for some sort of consolation, philosophic or Christian, or both.

 

The second passage pertinent to this theme of Christian philosophy and politics reads:  "To find a substitute for violated morality, he (Johnson) said, was the leading feature in all perversions of religion."  If I might read this passage somewhat contrariwise, it suggests that an authentic, non-violated morality would need to rely on a religion that was not perverted.  The theoretical substitute for the violated morality, I take it, would be the intellectual effort to justify and put into existence what was in fact contrary to classical morality. 

 

This articulated substitute would initially take the form of a religion-like moral system, an ideology, if you will, that contained a kind of coherent consistency within the terms of the denial itself.  This consistent ideology would systematically reject the essential points proposed by classical religion and morality.  Its final perfection would be its successful organization of an actual political, if not world, order.  This is, in its own way, the carrying out of Aristotle's remark that if man were the highest being, politics would be the highest science.  The principal role of revelation in politics, I think, is to reinforce Aristotle's understanding that man was not the highest being in the universe. Thus, man would be freed of the temptation to think that he was the highest being, a temptation which, when not theoretically counteracted, results in the practical effort to establish an alternate Kingdom of God on earth, however it be called.

 

II.

To speak of precisely "Christian philosophy" is rash enough, I suppose, let alone the almost unheard of implication that such philosophy might have a "role" in or even a relationship with politics.  On the other hand, in these days of rapidly increasing and radical separation of church and state, the topic is intriguing, however much neglected in academic discourse.  The net effect of an exaggerated divergence between religion and politics is to elevate a certain kind of philosophic discourse, usually the discourse of tolerance or relativism, into the position of the sole arbiter of what subjects are allowed to be seriously spoken in the public forum.  Christian philosophic speech in this context loses not so much its legitimacy as its voice or, perhaps better, it loses an intellectual framework in which its voice can be understood.


 

Though we should not be, we are, I think, quite surprised to hear, in this regard, no one less than the Archbishop of San Francisco tell a group of high school students that "The Catholic Church ... is the one thing in American society today which is exempt from the rules of fair play and which can be openly ridiculed and held up in contempt."3  We have, many of us, been assuming the immediate arrival of the famous "Catholic moment", wherein reasonable discourse and pious living would convince the skeptics of the missionary value of Catholicism.  Instead, we have become more and more signs of contradiction and objects of growing hatred, the indications of which we are loathe to acknowledge. 

 

In the beginning, I cited a passage from a New York Times Editorial commenting on President Clinton's order to allow individual usage of the abortion pill.  In many circles, not excluding certain Catholic surroundings, this policy seems enlightened, belated, and good public strategy.  I also cited C. S. Lewis' perceptive remark about how the human raw material, in "the world of post-humanity," as he called it, in our world that is, would be looked upon as something malleable before the will of zealous political "conditioners."  Politico-philosophic leaders, in the name of their substitute vision, would employ the power of the state to put into being what is contrary to the natural structure of human worth and dignity and, likewise, contrary to the explicit statements of Catholicism about itself and its understanding of the worth and meaning of the human person.

 

Let me now cite, in the context of these remarks about philosophy, Christianity, and politics, from a speech that was given September 25, 1992.  I cite it mostly, I think, because it illustrates better than anything else the thesis of the "culture wars," namely, that we are now, within this and other polities, entered into such radical divergences of opinion about what human life means that no real compromise, the essence of practical politics, is likely or even possible. 

 

The passage reads as follows: 


The argument against abortion is based not only on the data of faith but also on reasons of the natural order, including the true concepts of human rights and social justice.  The right to life does not depend on a particular religious conviction. It is a primary, natural, inalienable right that springs from the very dignity of every human being.  The defense of life from the moment of conception until natural death is the defense of the human person in the dignity that is his or hers from the sole fact of existence, independently of whether that existence is planned or welcomed by the persons who give rise to it.  Every reflection on this serious matter must begin from the clear premise that procured abortion is the taking of the life of an already existing human being....  There can be no "right" to kill an already existing though yet unborn human being.4

 

Now if I were to say that those remarks were made by Russell Hittinger or Hadley Arkes or Raymond Dennehy, no one would be surprised.  Were I to suggest that they were made by Hillary Clinton, the air would be filled with consternation.  In fact, of course, they were spoken to the Irish Bishops by John Paul II.                    What is to be noted about these remarks in particular, however, is that they claim to be spoken not merely in the name of religion but rather by religion in the name of reason.  Indeed, they are made by a religion that insists that reason is not contradictory or alien to its doctrines and practices, one that insists that it must give valid reasons to show this consistent relationship.  Today, in fact, the real cultural conflict is not between reason and science  -- what the Holy Father said is, from a scientific point of view, absolutely accurate.  Rather, the conflict is between such political ideology with its substitute counter-morality and science. 

 

III.

I would initially suggest, then, that the role of Christianity in politics is a philosophic one.  It is to maintain the accurate statement of the truth of things, of what is, even the truth of science when science will not stand up for itself.  It is to perform this clarification even when the words we use, like "choice," do not accurately describe the fact to which they refer.  We destroy millions of already begun human lives with no scruple and little compunction.  We do this drastic act in the name of a theory, in the noble name of "rights," in fact.  This justification leads us to suspect that we must be much more careful than we have been in using the concept of rights.5 

We are now also legally permitted to use, with decreasing limits, the remains of aborted fetuses for human experimentation, another policy change we have been bequeathed by the new conditioners.  And we use these human remains precisely because they are human and therefore most apt for human purposes.  The contradiction is patent.  We kill the incipient life because we say, with our Court, that it is only "potentially" human; then we use it, as the New York Times Editorial did, in the noble name of the common good, because it is actually human.  The  justifying principle stated in 1992 in the U. S. Supreme Court's Planned Parenthood vs. Casey  -- "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of  meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life" --   makes it quite impossible to distinguish between a Hitler and a Mother Teresa, between a monster and a wise man.  Ralph McInerny had it right, "We live in a time, philosophically speaking, when a lot of people have just given up on the pursuit of truth."6

 

In thinking about this topic of Christian philosophy and politics  -- abortion is my least favorite topic and I hate even to allude to it --  I had originally intended to suggest something perhaps outlandish.  Namely, I wanted to argue that political philosophy occupies a kind of privileged place between philosophy itself and revelation, while the contact between revelation and everyday practical life is almost immediate.  Eternal decisions are made in the course of our regular days, whether we be philosophers, senators, or janitors, whatever be our polity, the best or the worst.  There is, as it were, a Thomistic reason for the latter point and a Platonic reason for the former. 

 

Political philosophy has to explain or justify the existence of the polity so that it does not kill its philosophers or saints (or babies) when the polity realizes that something clearly disordered exists within it.  The truth of things, the whole of things, is properly the object of both philosophy and revelation.  Though there is such a thing as truth known by intuition, even in politics, the truth of politics largely depends on the truth of articulated philosophy.  Man does not make man to be man, Aristotle told us, but taking him from nature as already man, makes him to be good man.  Nor does man live by bread alone, as Scripture taught.  But both those who are to live the truth of things, and for Christianity this includes in principle everyone, and those who teach this truth must be allowed to live and to speak.  Their very existence cannot be hostile to a polity, even when either they or the polity itself is disordered.  In principle, indeed, their existence is the polity's purpose for existing, that is, to allow the highest things to exist within the context of the ordinary things.  And among the highest things is the proper understanding of man, without which understanding there is no limit to politics.

 

But the spiritual life of the philosopher or saint, at its highest, in what transcends politics, consists, in part, in seeking to resolve the different claims of truth in such a manner that reason and faith are allowed to operate and to conclude issues in conflict.  This is the Platonic point.  The hostility of politics to truth  -- the best existing city killed Socrates, the best Empire killed Christ --  is not good politics; the hostility of philosophers to truth is not good philosophy.

 

The Thomistic point is that the civil law is made for the generality of citizens, the majority of whom are neither perfect nor are they philosophers.  This practical wisdom is not intended to suggest that therefore what the citizens "do" do  -- the Machiavellian issue --  is quite the best norm for civil polity.  Rather it is that most people need something more than their own experience and reason to know and do what is right.  This something more is the purpose or "reason" for revelation.  This is why it was "necessary," to use St. Thomas' term. 

 


The things that are done that are wrong, however, remain wrong both in themselves and in their consequences, even when they are tolerated.  It is probably not worth the effort to try to prohibit all wrongs or make a law about all right.  The moral life is a thing that we ought, for the most part, to choose and reason to by ourselves.  But for most people, it will be religion that will incite them to anything approaching the good life that is needed for the survival of any polity, let alone that is needed to save their souls.  When Augustine finally came to address the topic of why the Romans declined, he found the answer in a moral context, in the way the Romans lived as judged by standards that even the Romans themselves understood.  A sober reading of many of the things we confront every day makes it seem that the sober Romans, at their worst, would have been surprised at what we do to ourselves.

 

IV.

Irving Kristol, I think, caught some of this issue about religion and political decline.  The rise and fall of liberalism is directly related to the rise and fall of secularism in American life, he remarked.  "Secular humanism" is already showing signs of sterility and collapse.  There is nothing on the left to replace this secular humanist position.  But there is another kind of alternative.  "Today, it is the religious who have a sense that the tide has turned and that the wave of the future is moving in their direction...," Kristol continued.

Religion is ... most important because it is the only power that, in the longer term, can shape people's character and regulate their motivation....  The reason is simple:  It is not possible to motivate people to do the right thing and avoid the wrong thing, unless people are told, from childhood on, what the right things and the wrong things are.7

 

The link between an accurate description of what we do and what we ought to do, whether the link be made by reason, as John Paul II indicated, or by religion, as Irving Kristol maintained, needs to be the continuing raw material of political philosophy, of what it is that it reflects on.

 

The things that are done that are wrong, however, remain wrong both in themselves and in their consequences, even when they are politically tolerated.  In one sense, we might observe, religion is not under attack when its members do wrong things because they are wrong things.  That they are likely to do wrong things is part of the Christian faith itself, the doctrine of the Fall.  This is why there is an intimate link between the doctrine of forgiveness and the right order of polity even when many wrong or evil things occur. 

 


Religion is only under attack when the wrong things themselves come to be intellectually considered to be right, or, in political terms, to be "rights," that is, when the affirmation of wrongs becomes itself enshrined in the laws and coercive power of the state as what is to be done.  Thus, as St. Thomas argued, it is probably not worth the effort to try to prohibit all wrongs or make a law about all right.  The moral life is a thing that we ought for the most part to choose and reason to by ourselves.  This is the profound meaning of the adage that we should hate sin but love the sinner.  We do not love the sinner when our political theory of tolerance becomes an intellectual definition of right and wrong depending on nothing other than whatever one's definition is.

 

In this sense, if I understand him rightly, St. Thomas would suggest that polities that do not right themselves with the aid of revelation will end up by being more and more unreasonable.  They will continue to lower their sights and call the results reality.  Chesterton suggested that a people that sets out to be "natural" somehow ends up by becoming "unnatural."  This unreasonableness or unnaturalness will manifest itself in conduct.  This disorder will henceforth be defined as good.  This is Johnson's "violated morality" that results in a perverse substitute for religion.  Activities and institutions contrary to reason and to the understanding of reason that is embodied in a given human nature, that, as such, has no specific origin in any human making, replace the activities and institutions said to manifest and support classical morality and religion.

 

V.

What is the role of Christianity in politics?  Linus has been diligently preparing for the school Christmas play in which he is to recite the passage that begins, "And the Angel said unto them, fear not:  for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people."  Lucy is listening to this recitation.  She even compliments him, since he had embarrassed them all by forgetting his lines in the Christmas play of the previous year.  Linus puts his coat on and prepares to go to the play.  He is in a good mood.  "I TOLD you I knew it," he boasts to Lucy.  "I have a memory like the proverbial elephant."  As he walks outside in the evening darkness, he happily and accurately repeats these lines again and again.  However, in the next scene he suddenly reappears at Lucy's door.  "What in the world?  I thought you just left?" she exclaims.  Thoroughly dejected, Linus replies, "I did, but I came back."  Finally, to a Lucy with eyes shut in disbelief, he explains, "I forgot where the Church is."8

 

Now, of course, this is the point I want to underscore in this matter of philosophy and politics.  In thinking of these issues, we too do not want to forget where the Church is.  In the first place, the New Testament is not a revelation about polity.   Politics is not revelation's object.  We will look in vain in the Gospels for a description of how to organize the state or how to promote policy.  The role of philosophy for Christians is to elucidate what the state is when revelation does not give any particular guidance on the subject. 

 


The Scripture is, no doubt, brash enough to tell us that there are things of Caesar.  No other religion ever said that.  But this same Caesar could be a bit of a tyrant.  Under his authority, neither Christ, nor Paul, nor Peter survived.  The obedience to the Emperor that Paul advised to the Romans seemed paradoxical when this same obedience meant the elimination of Paul himself.  Surely the effect of revelation was not, as Nietzsche suspected, intended to promote tyranny by default.

 

But emperors who were not also philosophers of sorts were not the real threat.  Brutality and individual corruption were normally passing things in history.  Their evil was easily recognized and admitted.  The really dangerous political leaders were those who had some grounding in philosophy, something about which Aristotle had already warned.  Aristotle furthermore thought that the only cure of philosophical disorder was more philosophy, that is, correct philosophy.  Paul himself, to be sure, looked upon the philosophers with a most skeptical eye.  The wisdom of this world seemed closer to foolishness to him.  The late Allan Bloom's book on the American mind surely would not have allayed Paul's suspicions about the intellectuals. 

 

But if we put these strands of thought together, in the context of the role of Christian philosophy in politics, we can see that the fact that there are things that "belong to God" implies that there are things that do not belong to Caesar.  The great drama of political philosophy is to protect the legitimacy of a place wherein truth can be spoken and lived.  It does this best, if we recall Aristotle, through music and poetry, through virtuous habits, that enable the actual politician to sense the truth without ever himself having had the time fully to know it.  Some very intelligent actual politicians, to recall Callicles, loved to talk philosophy in their youth.  But on reaching political power, they chose to put it aside.  They refused to talk about the relation of their ideas to truth, at which point they became, in Plato's dialogue, the most dangerous of men.  Callicles, as the model of such rulers, remains, I think, in this sense, a very contemporary politician.

 

VI.

"Have I forgotten where the Church is?" someone might ask at this point.  Here, I cannot help but recall Father Charles N. R. McCoy, who remains, in my view, the most insightful of Catholic thinkers who have devoted themselves to the understanding of political philosophy.  He was concerned with the nature and direction of the modern mind as it has intellectually argued itself into independence from any norms of nature or revelation, into a kind of autonomous freedom that sees human nature as a kind of raw material open to its own refashioning.  During the time that McCoy (1930's to 1970's) wrote, the most dangerous refashioners or conditioners seemed mainly to be Marxists.  Yet, in reflecting on him, he was amazingly aware, not unlike the Holy Father himself at times, of a kind of incipient democratic tyranny that would, if anything, be more dangerous than Marxism.   

 

What I would propose here, then, is that McCoy came the closest to describing in accurate philosophic terms what has gone wrong and why in the modern era.  I do not mean that he is some kind of uncanny seer, but I do mean that the hard intellectual work required to understand the situation in which we find ourselves is depicted in his writings.  Though he may, like Strauss, have been too harsh on Burke, McCoy understood why much of the contemporary liberal and conservative minds were not so much in opposition to each other but rather represented two sides of the same coin.  He admired Marx for seeing that both were lacking critical intelligence about the need for intelligence at the center of things.  For Marx this was the human intelligence, for McCoy it was the Prime Intellect to which human intelligence was in some sense open.

 

Furthermore, McCoy saw that religious thinkers themselves were more and more imitating in their theology philosophical principles and attitudes from modernity that could only transform religious thinking into pious versions of what was going wrong in the secular world.  McCoy, I sometimes think, is more important for theology than he is for political philosophy.  He understood why it is, in a sense, that we have so few "Catholic" universities wherein intellectually the validity of the defined positions of the Church is presented and argued as relevant to philosophy and especially to politics.

 

But in order to make the point I want to make in these considerations, let me cite a remark of Charles Taylor in his (November, 1991) Massey Lecture on Canadian Radio.  Taylor sought to explain the origins of the notion of authenticity as it has come to be understood in modern philosophy.  What interests me here is the understanding of authenticity as the antithesis to and almost parody of the magnanimous man of Aristotle or the saint of Christianity.  We aspire more and more to be led by such apparently autonomous and authentic men, those whose warrant is self-realization and whose freedom consists in putting their own ideas into reality, with no check from what is. 

 

This is how Taylor describes such an authentic man:

Being true to myself means being true to my own originality, and that is something only I can articulate and discover.  In articulating it, I am also defining myself.  I am realizing a potentiality that is properly my own.  This is the background understanding to the modern ideal of authenticity, and to the goals of self-fulfillment or self-realization in which it is usually couched.  This is the background that gives moral force to the culture of authenticity, including its most degraded, absurd, or trivialized forms.9

 

It is easy to see that some form of authenticity is a Christian virtue, that we need to know what we do.  We need to take into consideration our own unique lives, yet not be hypocritical.  But a Christian authenticity would begin, it seems, with Voegelin's remark, based in a true humility, that "we all experience our own existence as not existing out of itself but as coming from somewhere even if we don't know from where."10

 

VII.

Why I want to refer to McCoy in this context, however, is not because of his doubts about the project of Strauss to revive classical political philosophy.  McCoy himself subscribed to the need for some radical revival of political philosophy as such.  But he doubted the success of such an endeavor without a Christian component to this revival.  St. Thomas was more than a welcome preserver of Aristotle, as he is often pictured by the Straussians.  St. Thomas increased philosophy because of revelation.  His philosophical conclusions as such did not take a form that a non-Christian could not understand or accept.  Rather McCoy explained how such modern authenticity came to conceive that it gave law to itself, how it came to hold that there was no place for a natural law and a revelation addressed through it.

 

Charles N. R. McCoy had a great appreciation for Marx and considered him a philosopher of great insight.  With the presumed death of Marxism, we might wonder about the validity of McCoy's thesis.  McCoy's thought was based on the awareness of an abiding prudence or practical wisdom that existed in certain strands of the political tradition, strands articulated best in Aristotle and St. Thomas. 

 

Claes Ryn has justly remarked, in the context of both Strauss and McCoy, that "choosing between modern and premodern thought is not a real possibility."11  Ryn argued against a kind of abstract intellectualism that did not really embody principles in reality.  The Thomist notion of prudence and the Christian doctrine of Incarnation are, of course, very much along these lines.  Indeed, even Marx, as McCoy thought, was concerned with a kind of species-man whereby everything of the universe came to exist in each person, though it seems that Aristotle's notion of friendship might be a better solution to the same problem. 

 

The question asked today is whether the intellectual critique of modernity as something intrinsically opposed to human life in the Aristotelian or Thomist sense remains viable?  Paul Johnson has asked, in this regard, whether "totalitarianism was dead?"  Or does it reappear in new ideologies and movements, perhaps even more dangerous because more democratic?12  Do these newer movements not have the same intellectual roots as Marxism only, on its fall, to follow a different, more subtle path? 

 

It is on this point of the troubling nature of philosophic modernity that McCoy was most perceptive.  In his essay, "The Dilemma of Liberalism," he wrote:

Liberalism's primal act of imagination whereby it establishes its essence and existence in the enhanced sense of freedom consequent on the Humean principle that the aberrations in nature are ever so conformable to reality as its apparent intentions issued in autonomy and other-direction.  This condition is overcome by the profounder insight that ... by the law that reduces the material and mental spheres to a common denominator the aberrations in nature become the exemplar for freedom in the world of culture and civilization.  The way to autonomy then must lie, as Marx most clearly perceived, in destroying all the "intentions" in nature....13

 

Autonomy and authenticity are to be manifested in culture and civilization.  Their sign of societal existence is their replacing the intentions of nature that see man as already a formed being whose end or good is given to his intellect to know. His truth consists in the degree to which he conforms his free life to to nature and nature's God's purpose in causing him to be in the first place.  This purpose, which is first to know what is, is, likewise, his own good, a good that is given to him by the cause of his being.  Religion, family, limited state, science, morals, and law all take their being and meaning from these intentions in nature.

 

These human realities  -- family, limited state, religion, morals, law, and science -- "are the indefectible principles and natural associations," McCoy continued,

and they are not among the facts in accord with which we must live  -- in a people's democracy.  But they are precisely the things upon which, in the classical tradition of the West, all free governments have depended.  And the reason for this is that all of these things are nothing but participations of that intellect that is "separable indeed but [does] not exist apart from matter" in the life of that Prime Intellect upon whose perfect freedom, indeed  -- as Aristotle well understood --  "depend the heavens and the world of nature."14

 

The intellect that is "separable from matter but does not exist apart from it" is of course the human intellect.  Its freedom is not original with itself, but it is an essential property of its what is, its being. 

 

The human good is, as it were, given to it and given to it as something it could not imagine in its highest reaches.  Aristotle said that man does not make man to be man but taking him from nature as already man makes him to be good man.  The freedom of man has to do with his goodness, not with his being.  That is a freedom of man to be something other than man is neither a liberty nor a glory more exalted than what he is.  The claim of modern political theories is that the institutions in which this good is fostered are themselves not presupposed to the real good of man.  They must be changed or eliminated because their existence interferes with the ambition of authentic and autonomous man to refashion man free of any divine or traditional claim.  This position, thus, must be based on positions that refuse the freedom that comes from the truth of man's being.  McCoy saw here that free government depends on the Western tradition that saw the first purpose of philosophy to be that of knowing the given being of man as a limit on its own activities.  It is in this sense that Western civilization, the civilization with the universal purpose, as Strauss rightly called it, must directly come under attack if an alternate structure of man, rooted in the denial of any claim to a right order of human things, is to exist.15

 

VIII.

In a remarkable little essay entitled, "The Purpose of Politics," Josef Pieper has commented on the dangers of the exclusively political, on the view that politics is, contrary to Aristotle, the "highest science."  A politics that is based on an unlimited freedom rather than on the truth that makes us free leaves us, Pieper thought, subject to "the deadly emptiness and the endless ennui which bounds the realm of the exclusively practical."  This result, Pieper went on to explain, is the result of the destruction of the vita contemplativa, the capacity to account for the "intentions" in nature.  In this situation, it is possible to

see new and forceful validity in the old principle:  "It is requisite for the good of the human community that there should be persons who devote themselves to the life of contemplation."  For it is contemplation which preserves in the midst of human society the truth which is at one and the same time useless and the yardstick of every possible use; so it is also contemplation which keeps the true end in sight, gives meaning to every practical act of life.16

 

Thus both the democratic polity that allows the philosopher to exist, even though it think him a fool, and the best practical polity that knows its own limits and knows that there are things that are not Caesar's have within their structures the means for their own preservation. 

 

But it is out of the democratic polity that the philosophical tyrants arise.  The philosophic tyrants are not content merely with their own good but require that the whole of reality be ordained to their own project, a project that is conceived to be the proper understanding of things, particularly human things.  When we have come to this point, in conclusion, we realize that C. S. Lewis' word was very perceptive, the "conditioners."  We do live among those who presume to deal with only "conditioned human material."  Lewis called this simply "post-humanity." 

 

The role of Christian philosophy in politics is, at its briefest, to prevent such a post-human order of things from coming about by demonstrating the truth of right order.  The first step is to understand how this post-humanity is coming about.  And that understanding, practically speaking, will not happen without revelation, without a clear understanding of the responses that revelation gives to the unanswered philosophic questions, together with a clear understanding of disorder in the human soul.  The alternate answers are in place.  Samuel Johnson already had it correct in 1770 -- "To find a substitute for violated morality was the leading feature in all perversions of religion." The substitutes are taking over the public world.  This is why, even as philosophers, we cannot forget where the Church is.  Eo magis Christianus, quo magis philosophus.

 



     1 C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York:  Macmillan, 1978), p. 86.

     2 Boswell's Life of Johnson (London:  Oxford, 1931), I, p. 420.

     3 Archbishop John R. Quinn, "Christ and His Church:  Signs of Contradiction," Lay Witness, 14 (January/February, 1993), p. 9.

     4. John Paul II, "Catechetics and the Defense of Life," Address to the Irish Bishops, September 25, 1992, The Pope Speaks, 36 (January/February, 1993), 55.

     5 See Mary Ann Glendon, Rights Talk:  The Impoverishment of Political Discourse (New York:  The Free Press, 1991); Henry Veatch, Human Rights:  Fact or Fancy? (Baton Rouge:  Louisiana State University Press, 1985); James V. Schall, "Human Rights as an Ideological Project," The American Journal of Jurisprudence, 32 (1987), 47-61. 

     6 Ralph McInerny, Interview, National Catholic Register, January 24, 1993.

     7. Irving Kristol, "The Coming Conservative Century," The Wall Street Journal, February 1, 1993.

     8. Charles Schulz, And the Beagles and the Bunnies Shall Lie Down Together (New York:  Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1984).

     9. Charles Taylor, "The Sources of Authenticity," Canadian Forum, January/February, 1992, p. 5.

     10 Conversations with Eric Voegelin, Edited by R. Eric O'Connor (Montreal:  Thomas More Institute Papers, 1980), p. 9.

     11. Claes G. Ryn, "Universality and History:  The Concrete as Normative," Humanitas, VI ( Fall 1992/Winter 1993), 19.

     12. Paul Johnson, "Is Totalitarianism Dead?" Crisis, 7 (February, 1989), 9-17.

     13 Charles N. R. McCoy, "The Dilemma of Liberalism," The Intelligibility of Political Philosophy:  Essays of Charles N. R. McCoy (Washington:  The Catholic University of America Press, 1989), p. 84.  See also Charles N. R. McCoy, The Structure of Political Thought (New York:  McGraw-Hill, 1963); James V. Schall, "Transcendent Man in the Limited City:  The Political Philosophy of Charles N. R. McCoy," The Thomist, 57 (January, 1993), 63-95; "'Man for Himself':  On the Ironic Unities of Political Philosophy," Political Science Reviewer, XV (Fall, 1985), 67-108.

     14 Ibid., p. 85.

     15 Leo Strauss, City and Man (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1964), p. 3.

     16 Josef Pieper, "The Purpose of Politics," Josef Pieper  -- an Anthology (San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, 1989), p. 123.